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Landlord of Building That Caused East Village Blast Was Sued in 2013

By Lisha Arino | April 2, 2015 3:49pm
 Tenants of 119 Second Ave., which was destroyed by the explosion, sued the landlord of 121 Second Ave.
Tenants of 119 Second Ave., which was destroyed by the explosion, sued the landlord of 121 Second Ave.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

EAST VILLAGE — The landlord of the Second Avenue building that caused the massive explosion on Second Avenue last week had been taken to court for illegal construction in an adjacent tenement two years ago, records show.

Four rent-stabilized and rent-controlled tenants who lived at 119 Second Ave. took landlord Maria Hrynenko of Kiev Realty LLC — who also owns 121 Second Ave., where the blast occurred — to court for illegally installing a “restaurant chimney duct” in the building’s air and light shaft in June 2013, records show.

Workers also blocked off the bedroom windows facing the shaft, and some of the other apartments also needed repairs for items like damaged windows, ceilings and floors, the lawsuits claims.

Matt Brooks, who lived in the building for 23 years before it was reduced to rubble last week, said Hrynenko built the chimney to accommodate ground-floor restaurant East Noodle & Izakaya, which opened up when clothing store Love Saves the Day closed in 2008.

“Instead of running the kitchen exhaust up the side of the building like everyone else does, she decided to run it up the light shaft,” said Brooks, a puppet maker who once worked for the Jim Henson Company.

Brooks, 50, said he and the other tenants who sued Hrynenko — Mildred Guy, Robert Schmidt and Kim-Nora Moses — denied workers access to their units because they thought the construction was illegal and potentially dangerous.

Ultimately, the work was done from the shaft itself instead of from inside of the apartments, tenants who spoke with DNAinfo said.

“They entered up through the shaft and did the work internally. They busted our windows from inside the shaft and walled [the windows] up that way,” Brooks explained.

“I had no light and no air from the shaft,” added Guy, 62, a teacher’s assistant at The Neighborhood School who moved into the building in November 1970.

Hrynenko's attorney, Thomas M. Curtis, acknowledged that "a lot" of the work had been done outside the tenants' apartments but said the construction was approved by the Department of Buildings. The rooms were also not considered bedrooms, he said.

Hrynenko did not respond to requests for comment.

The landlord applied for a work permit to route an exhaust vent through an existing air duct in 2009, a DOB spokesman said. The agency approved the work but only under the condition that the vent and the windows are walled off and the rooms facing those windows not be used as bedrooms, he said.

DOB issued a stop-work order on the building in 2010 when inspectors found that the sealed-off spaces were being used as bedrooms, the spokesman said. In 2013, the landlord told the agency it would relocate the exhaust vent and unseal the windows.

Hrynenko settled the case in April 2014, according to Curtis and court documents. She removed the duct, unsealed the windows and replaced them with new ones because “complying with [the tenants’] unreasonable demands is less costly than the legal fees in contesting [their] claims,” read affidavits included in the lawsuit.

Brooks described Hrynenko as a “hostile” landlord who became more antagonistic toward him after the tenants challenged her decision to build the chimney.

“After we challenged her on this action… she was openly hostile to the point where if I spoke to her about anything, she would just begin yelling at me and berating me and [saying] how dare I and I have no right to be there and just stuff like that.”

Guy had little interaction with Hrynenko, but decided to sue when the landlord blocked her window.

“I tried to have very little dealings with them. I just paid my rent and did not complain, [and] did not do anything,” she said. “[Hrynenko] was the one who came and brought the trouble to me.”

Curtis, however, characterized her as a caring landlord who took over the buildings after her husband, Michael Hrynenko, passed away in 2004. Hrynenko now runs the buildings through holding companies, records show.

"Maria doesn't have a mean bone in her body," Curtis said. "She's the nicest, sweetest person."